What Can You Learn from Best Firm Award Recipients?

By Jon Lokhorst, CSP, CPA, PCC

Your Best Leadership LLC

 

 

Earlier this fall, Accounting Today released its 2023 Best Firms to Work For results, with two Minnesota-based firms scoring high in the midsized employer category. Ranking third among 53 midsized was St. Paul-based Mahoney. Coming in eighteenth was Global Tax Network (GTN), which is headquartered in Maple Grove and has remote staff in about 15 states.

 

Mahoney and GTN are both multiple-year recipients of Accounting Today’s recognition, along with best workplace awards from other similar programs. To determine its winners, Accounting Today relies on extensive management and employee surveys through a partnership with Best Companies Group.

 

I recently asked Mahoney’s managing partner, Roz Allyson, and GTN’s CEO, David Kolb, what they have learned from entering the Accounting Today competition in recent years, and how other organizations can learn from pursuing similar recognition. Not surprisingly, a few prevailing themes emerged from those conversations: culture, flexibility, communication, and feedback.

 

The Affirmation of Culture

 

During our conversations, Allyson and Kolb repeatedly emphasized the importance of a healthy firm culture. Mahoney strives for an open, friendly culture where staff like working together and get together outside of work, too. The healthy firm culture promotes staff retention, which clients also value because they gain consistency in the people they work with. Allyson highlighted the affirmation of culture as one of the benefits of participating in the Best Firms process. “The surveys reinforce that our culture is where we hope we are at, and that our staff feel the same way, that we’re not operating in some dream world,” Allyson said.

 

Kolb agrees on the affirmation of culture. “It all comes down to culture, right?” he asked. GTN’s culture is undergirded by a staunch dedication to the firm’s core values: play well with others, possess a humble spirit, be passionate, seek growth, and own it. Everyone in the firm is expected to live out the core values and every year, they honor a Core Value Champion. Kolb mentioned the added benefit from best workplace programs in providing accountability for firm leaders. As he said, the surveys answer the question, “Are we as the leadership, living and breathing those core values?”

 

The Value of Flexibility

 

Kolb said the Best Firms survey results also affirm the value of flexibility upon which his firm was founded 23 years ago. “Our mission has been to provide a supportive environment where employees can deliver outstanding client service while maintaining a healthy work-life balance,” he said. The diverse goals and needs among GTN’s team members drive a flexible approach to not only work hours and location, but also to employee benefits, professional development, and career growth.

 

Allyson also views flexibility as multi-faceted. Mahoney provides a hybrid work environment, with a mixture of remote and in-person work. They’ve adapted their office use to reflect that while some staff may be in the office every day, others might only work in the office one day a week. Allyson highlighted another aspect of flexibility that comes from participating in best workplace programs, the firm being willing to adapt to change based on survey results. Her firm has adjusted their hiring process, employment of interns, provision of paid time off, and parental leave, to name a few. “We’re continually wanting to improve and get the perspective of our staff,” she said.

 

The Importance of Communication and Feedback

 

Data from the Accounting Today survey revealed that firms perceived by their staff as providing open communication and feedback are more likely to make the Best Firms list than other applicants who don’t. Their report indicated that 90 percent of employees from Best Firms agreed with the survey prompt, “Changes that affect me are communicated to me prior to implementation,” compared to only 80 percent from firms that didn’t make the list.

 

Allyson shared that the Best Firms survey is just one of many tools Mahoney uses to elevate communication and feedback within their firm. “With different perspectives, ideas, and background, coming from different generations, it’s good for us to know how we’re doing, she commented. They do a “committee rush,” each fall to give staff an opportunity to participate in various facets of the firm. One such group is the Next Gen Committee, which firm leadership uses as a way to solicit input form younger staff and as a sounding board for new ideas.

 

Likewise, GTN nurtures “a culture of transparent communication with our firm,” according to Kolb. “Foremost is our dedication to gathering genuine feedback from our team members,” he said. “While leadership strives to cultivate a positive work environment, it’s crucial that this effort aligns with our employees’ experiences and perceptions.” To foster that type of communication, the firm established “connectivity calls,” every week or every other week. In addition, Kolb started “Dining with Dave,” an in-person or Zoom lunch conversation with individual employees.

 

Should You Pursue Best Firm Recognition?

 

Kolb and Allyson agree on the significant benefits their firms have gained from participating in the Best Firms program. In addition to providing a benchmark for what other top firms are doing across the country, “it solidifies our reputation as an employer of choice,” as Kolb describes it. “It’s good for us to see how we’re doing and then we can make decisions if we’re not competitive in a certain area,” Allyson said.

 

Both firms highlight the recognition in recruiting and retention efforts. “It helps with recruiting. It helps with retention,” said Allyson. “We talk about it all the time when we’re recruiting on campuses and highlight it on our website.”

 

Kolb shared the added benefit of boosting employee engagement. “The process fosters a culture of employee engagement and feedback,” he said. “Engaged employees tend to be more motivated, satisfied, and ultimately more productive. This benefits both the employees and the firm as a whole.”

 

Accounting Today’s Best Firms recognition and similar programs require a substantial investment of time and, in some cases, financial resources to participate. You might not make the cut as a Best Firm the first time around, or ever. You run the risk of receiving feedback that can be hard to hear at times. But the opportunity to gain crucial insights for leading your firm is a game-changer if you want to be healthy, viable, and competitive for the long run.

 

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Jon Lokhorst, CSP, CPA, PCC, is a leadership speaker, trainer, coach, and author of Mission-Critical Leadership: How Smart Managers Lead Well in All Directions. An MNCPA member, he works with organizations to develop leaders everyone wants to follow, build teams no one wants to leave, and deliver exceptional results. Jon is a frequent speaker for MNCPA events and facilitates the MNCPA Leadership Academy. You can reach him at jon@yourbestleadership.com.

 

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